How fitting is it that as Derek Jeter approaches yet another milestone – he is three hits away from tying Honus Wagner for sixth place on the all-time list – the pitcher on the mound tonight in the Bronx will be David Price?
Whether by ironic fate or mere coincidence, Jeter has had his share of memorable at-bats against the former Cy Young Award winner.
Most fans remember that Jeter's epic 3,000th hit – a home run on July 9, 2011 - came at the expense of the lefty ace, but that is not the only time Price has been at the center of a Jeter highlight reel. Here are some of the other milestone hits by Jeter during their matchups:
• Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the most career hits at the old Yankee Stadium on September 14, 2008 when he hit a solo homer in the fifth inning off the rookie Price (who was making his major-league debut).
• Jeter entered the top-10 in career hits all-time on September 14, 2012 in the Bronx with a fifth-inning single off Price. That gave him 3,284 hits, passing Willie Mays for sole possession of 10th place.
• Just over a month ago in a home game vs the Rays on July 1, Jeter's fourth-inning double off Price was the 534th of his career, tying Gehrig for the most in franchise history.
Jeter's dominance of Price extends beyond these milestone moments with a .305/.388/.458 career line in 67 plate appearances against the left-hander. Among players that have faced Price at least 30 times, only six have a higher on-base percentage against him than Jeter.
So how has Jeter been able to have consistent success against one of the best pitchers in the game?
Let's take a deeper look at their individual matchups over the years and see what Jeter has to do tonight to make Price the victim of yet another milestone hit for The Captain.
Attack early Jeter has had a lot of success when he is aggressive early in the count against Price. He is 7-for-17 (.412) with two doubles when putting the ball in play on either the first or second pitch of an at-bat.
Jeter was able to take advantage of Price early during their most recent matchup on July 1, as he went 2-for-3 off him with both of his hits coming on 0-1 pitches.
Don't panic When most batters fall behind against Price, it's usually an automatic out. Jeter is not most batters.
He owns a robust .343 batting average when putting the ball in play in a pitchers count (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2) and a .303 average in two-strike at-bats vs Price. For all other hitters in those situations against Price, their batting averages are .185 and .164, respectively.
Feast on mistakes As you can see in the heat map below, Jeter has done most of his damage when Price leaves a pitch over the heart of the plate.
Jeter is hitting .354 vs Price when he throws a pitch in the strike zone, including 12-for-20 (.600) when he locates it right down the middle. Price is also not afraid to challenge Jeter, throwing half of his pitches to him in the strike zone.
It may seem obvious, but Jeter really needs to avoid hacking at offerings outside his sweetspot, even within the defined strike zone. He is just 5-for-29 (.173) in at-bats ending in pitches located on the outer or inner third of the plate (and in the zone) against Price.
It would be especially nice if Price hung a sweet curveball over the plate tonight when facing The Captain, who is 7-for-11 in at-bats ending in a curve against him.
Two of his prior milestone hits have come when he's crushed a curveball in the zone from Price – his memorable 3,000th hit in 2011 and his franchise-record-tying 534th double earlier this year.
As mentioned at the top, Jeter needs three hits to tie Wagner on the all-time hits list. It may seem like a tall task to get three hits against any pitcher in a game, let alone a former Cy Young winner. But it wouldn't be unprecedented for Jeter.
He notched three hits in a game against Price less than three years ago... on that historic ninth day of July in 2011 when he became the first player to reach 3,000 hits while wearing a Yankee uniform.